Could hearing loss heighten risk of dementia in older people?
Hearing loss is not an uncommon complaint amongst seniors. In fact, the condition is expected to affect 50-60 per cent of Australians and New Zealanders over the age of 60, according to the National Foundation for the Deaf (NFD). This number only grows with age, as the NFD reports that over half of the population over 80 will be living with a hearing impairment.
While there are hearing solutions available to help restore lost sounds and allow people to fully engage in conversations once again, not everyone with hearing loss seeks treatment. Unfortunately, untreated hearing loss can have other serious side effects, which can have a huge detriment on quality of life.
Untreated hearing loss
There are a number of reasons why a person with hearing loss will not use a hearing aid. Perhaps they have never been diagnosed, or are in denial that they have a problem in the first place. In addition, as age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, will develop gradually it can often be hard to spot the warning signs.
According to the Hearing Care Industry Association (HCIA), people take seven years on average to finally seek help for a hearing problem, with only one in four people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wearing one.
Leaving hearing loss untreated can often result in the problem becoming worse, as reported by the Scripps Research Institute. However, research has also linked it to another condition commonly faced by older people – dementia.
Dementia and hearing loss
As explained by Johns Hopkins Medicine, when hearing loss isn’t addressed, it can lead to the acceleration of brain tissue loss, otherwise known as brain atrophy. While this is a natural process which occurs over our lifetime, when spurred on by hearing loss, atrophy can lead to an increased risk of cognitive disease such as dementia.
Fortunately, a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that when fitted with hearing aids, people with hearing loss showed no greater level of cognitive decline than those with normal hearing. This suggests that simply by treating hearing loss, seniors can possibly help to reduce their risk of dementia.
Dr P. Murali Doraiswamy from Duke University School of Medicine told AARP:
“Every doctor knows that hearing loss can result in cognitive problems, but they still don’t focus on it as a priority when they evaluate someone with suspected dementia.”
“The benefits of correcting hearing loss on cognition are twice as large as the benefits from any cognitive-enhancing drugs now on the market. It should be the first thing we focus on.”